So I was doing a bit of the ol’ interweb-crawling before heading to bed, and I came across a piece of news that got blood rushing to my head. An Instagram account attributed to the band Rage Against The Machine has put up a single image.
Yes. The Rage Against the Machine, whose last live appearance was in 2011, at a festival called LA Rising. That year I was in Los Angeles, sans car, barely skimming the surface of what the city had to offer. So of course I missed it, and the band never performed together again.
RATM has been on my top 5 Acts to Watch Live, and it looks like next year is when I make it out to Coachella again, after 5 years of staying away from the festival. Or maybe it may make more sense to just head out to New Mexico or Arizona to see the band, considering Coachella logistics.
Also, I cringe at the thought of being an RATM fan 20 years ago, with little context to their music, other than them being this angry-sounding band with catchy guitar riffs that were great to head-bang to. “The Machine” in their name, in my head, correlated to the System, and of course, we all hated the system, which was all teachers and dumb rules and everything that reeked of adulthood. So it felt good to sing along with “Fuck you I won’t do what to tell me”. It did not help that I heard their music for the first time on the Matrix OST, which obfuscated their political messages even more. In a time when I was still trying to define what “cool” was, and whether I was part of that club or not, Rage Against The Machine’s music presented the right kind of credentials.
It was much, much later that a better knowledge of US politics, history, and culture helped me understand the “Rage” in their name. The band’s lyrics are, in case you didn’t know already, at odds with US domestic and foreign policy, and are a direct critique of corporations, cultural imperialism, and systemic oppression of marginalized groups in America. Once upon a time, I wondered at why exactly the band spoke of convicted murderers and revolutionary Mexican organizations, and wondered if they were taking performance art too far by insisting on shooting a video in front of the New York Stock Exchange, or hanging upside down flags from their speakers during a live TV show. I had misgivings about the violent protests their music seemed to incite, and sort of understood why they were the only band in the infamous Clear Channel memorandum to have all songs banned from radio channels in the aftermath of 9/11.
But you live and learn. Twenty years later, I know America a little differently than I did back when I just graduated college. I am a lot more aware, both from a cultural and sociopolitical standpoint, about what makes this country tick, and the undercurrents of wrongness that pervade American society. The truths to power that the band spits out through their music feel like a necessary part of the American discourse. “Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses” now hold more import than the chorus of ‘Killing in the Name’. And the song that plays at the end of The Matrix, the one that introduced me to the band, has these lines:
Networks at work, keepin' people calm
Ya know they murdered X and tried to blame it on Islam
He turned the power to the have-nots
And then came the shot
As it turns out, I am not alone in loving the band without understanding them. Republican ex-House speaker Paul Ryan was apparently an RATM fan, and Tom Morello wrote a scathing Rolling Stone opinion piece calling him “the embodiment of the machine”.
These, by the way, are the list of books in the album notes of Evil Empire, their second album.
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- Capital, Volume I by Karl Marx
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
- The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
- Guerrilla Warfare by Che Guevara
- Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton
- Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
- The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
- Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
- Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
- Live from Death Row by Mumia Abu-Jamal
- Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
- Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism by Alexander Berkman
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- Rules for Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky
- Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson by George Jackson
- Walden and Resistance to Civil Government by Henry David Thoreau
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- Another Country by James Baldwin
I am still working my way through this list, and I do not claim to be an expert. But I shut up, and listen, and read, and read a little more, and every day the world comes a little more into focus.